Saved By The Spell: How Online RPGs Connect Us During Corona

Updated: May 13, 2020

Pirate ship handmade by Zero Session standing behind a tabletop rpg setup with dice for game night
Our handmade pirate ship standing gallantly behind our irl game night setup

COVID-19 Means We Are Living In An Isolated Time

There have been over 1.3 million people infected with coronavirus in the United States alone at the time of this writing. Since March, around 20,000 new cases have been announced each day, world wide, and that’s just what’s been reported. I live in New Orleans where our famous food and music festival, Jazzfest, would usually have taken place in April and early May. Everyone would have enjoyed Crawfish Monica watched Cowboy Mouth, and caroused. Instead, we're all watching our favorite musicians via Zoom concerts or singing along to Spotify in the shower.

Who can tell what the “new normal” will look like? Fortunately, I’ve found a way to avoid being too bored or lonely no matter what happens, thanks to the presence of online RPGs (role-playing games) in my life! In fact, gamers in general have expressed much more stability during these times of Quarantine. The Quarantine blues aren’t as blue when you know you’ve got a full night of socializing with friends online ahead of you, all from the comfort of your home. COVID-19 is teaching us how to have a digital existence, and while it can be really hard, I think it also has the potential to be really rewarding.

The Popularity Of Tabletop RPGs Is On The Rise

Wizards of the Coast is the company behind Dungeons and Dragons, and their online sales rose 53% between May 2017 and October 2018. 2018 was the fourth year in a row that D&D sales grew more than 30%! With growth like that, I would say we are looking at a growing wave of tabletop RPG popularity. Everyone will be giving the dice a roll soon enough!

The number of people who are into “nerd” culture these days is insane! Our geeky and awesome interests are being embraced by the general public like never before, and in a wholly unexpected way. Maybe you’ve always thought of D&D as an extreme, living in a mom’s basement of nerdiness where nothing too valuable could be found. Maybe you love cosplay but you always thought tabletop RPGs were all technical mechanics and dice (like I did). Well I say it’s time for you (and all of your friends!) to come to the dark side. We have good snacks here… ;)

Tabletop RPGs Are An Active Form of Entertainment That Stimulates The Imagination

The way I see it, tabletop role-playing games represent a missing form of entertainment for many people: group storytelling. When playing an RPG, each person is valuable and contributes to the story. You feel a sense of ownership of the game, and you create memories in a way that is rare compared to other forms of entertainment. Think of it like a Choose Your Own Adventure, except you also get to customize your character and can have that character take any actions you can think of.

Video games can get you close to this feeling, but in a video game there are only certain actions you can take and places you can go. There is a sense of accomplishment after you’ve beat the game, but it’s still not entirely your story. If you enjoy playing RPG video games (like I do), then you might just fall in love with tabletop RPGs (like I did!).

When playing a TTRPG, you can either use a pre-made character and customize it, or create a new character from scratch. You can decide their quirks, flaws, catchphrases, and ideals, to name a few! Your character can be angsty and sullen or excitable and musical, or anything else you can think of. Maybe it turns out that another player’s character is actually your character’s long lost brother? Will that serve to make you get along better, or add stress to your dynamic? Perhaps another player saved your life and now you follow them around trying to repay the life debt?

The things that make you beautiful and unique as a player are exactly what’s going to make the game magical and fun, especially when combined with other people’s equally wondrous attributes.

A woman rolling dice with two men during a Dungeons and Dragons tabletop RPG
Goblin Cave during The Lost Mines of Phandelver

Role-playing Games, How Do They Work?

In tabletop role-playing games, one player takes on the role of Game Master. This person is the game's main narrator and acts as a sort of referee, helping to make sure that rules are followed and the game moves along smoothly. Often the entire world has come from your GM’s imagination! Despite the fact that there are rules in RPGs, even the creators say they are only meant as guidelines put in place to enhance the experience. A common recommendation is to go in knowing 60% of the rules, but you could go in with hardly any knowledge (I did!) and learn as you go (unlike with a board game).

Then the fun part begins... Adventuring and exploration! The GM introduces the setting and situates the players in the game world. Game worlds can be set anywhere from a high fantasy realm to a cyberpunk dystopian future. Maybe you’re investigating a lovecraftian nightmare in the 1920’s northeast United States? The options are endless. The GM will also describe (and sometimes act as) any creatures, locations, non player characters and quests that take place. The three elements that the adventures get broken down into in any tabletop RPG are: Social Interaction, Combat, and Exploration.

In addition, the following pattern repeats throughout the game session:

  1. The GM tells the Players about the environment or situation (maybe you are escaping a dungeon or fighting a Beholder).

  2. The Players say what they’d like to do and the GM may call for a roll of the dice to determine what will happen (failure or success). Sometimes one player may speak for the whole party, and other times different players are all doing different things. Almost always, the only time that a particular turn order takes place is during combat. The GM listens to everyone and determines the resolution.

  3. The GM then narrates the results of the actions. The narration often brings the party to another decision to be made and the cycle continues. This pattern takes place in all three of the adventure elements above (Social, Combat, Exploration).

A black and white cat sitting behind A GM screen and looking at the camera
Our cat Jaqen is a GM. Tis a family tradition, after all!l

I'm Sold On Online RPGs, But Why Pay To Play?

I’m sure you are very excited to pick out some beautiful rainbow resin dice or jump on Roll20 at this point! But you are probably wondering why you should pay to play rather than seeking out a game that’s free. The three biggest reasons are Reliability, Engagement, and Quality! Many times games fall apart because the players can’t make it or the GM doesn’t show. GMs listed on Zero Session will be present and prepared for every session, every time. Also, Players are more apt to be engaged and open since they paid to be there. Just in case, our Quality Standards are in place protecting everyone.

At Zero Session we’re offering a simple new way to find the perfect game and checkout as easily as buying tickets to a show! It seems like a no-brainer to shell out a few bucks for something that can help sustain our social lives and nourish our creative minds.

The Zero Session logo which features text about weekly games and pro GMs and a blue ten-sided di or d10
Join our community today!

Play, Learn, and Stay Connected

If you want to play but aren’t sure how to get started, we’ve got you covered! We offer classes and workshops through Zero Academy, our hub of online classes, workshops, and courses for Game Masters and Players who want to improve their skills. Zero Academy features our popular $5 Play & Learn D&D 5e game (it’s amazing and Camelot themed) where anyone can play and learn at the same time. Because of the coronavirus quarantine all of our games and classes take place online using Roll20 and Discord, but once the quarantine is lifted and things get back to normal we'll open Zero Session up to both online and in-person games! Once you’ve entered the RPG World, you can connect with friends anywhere in the whole world, or make new ones no matter where you end up. Like being a member of a club, there’s an understanding that you are going to see each other every week. There’s always a reason for you to hang out, and you can and will bond much more easily than you would during other activities. Get ready to learn a lot about yourself, and make lots of friends.

P.S. You’re invited to join our Discord channel!

Man in medieval attire smiling behind his GM screen as he referees a Dungeons and Dragons campaign
Trevor is all smiles during the CoS campaign he DM'ed!

You Should Be Playing Tabletop Roleplaying Games!

They are the beautiful multiverse of entertainment that the world is largely still missing out on. People have finally started to make their way to video games in earnest because of cell phones. Despite video games being amazing (and a vital and beloved part of my existence) there is still a more interactive way to be a part of a story! With D&D and other roleplaying games, you and your friends are building the entire world together.

Don’t let not knowing how to play be a barrier, because you don’t need to know all the rules before starting. Not only that, we’ve got plenty of classes and learning games to help you ease into it. Bringing everyone into the RPG world was the impetus for us launching Zero Session, so we will be here to guide you on your journey every step of the way!

What online RPG experiences have you had during Quarantine? What campaigns or one-shots have you played, and do you think having a gaming community makes Quarantine easier? We'd love to hear what you have to say in the comments!


1. 2019 Novel Coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in the U.S. -. U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

2.Jazmin Goodwin, “On coronavirus lockdown, gamers seek solace and community in video games” USA TODAY, April 3, 2020, accessed May 11, 2020

3. Adam Rowe, “The Company Behind Dungeons & Dragons Grew Online Sales 53% Last Year” Forbes, February 28, 2019, accessed May 11, 2020

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